The number of deaths due to smokeless tobacco in India is on the rise, say researchers, adding that deaths due to it globally has also gone up by a third in seven years to an estimated 350,000 people.
According to the study, South and South-East Asia continue to be a hotspot with India accounting for 70 per cent, Pakistan for seven per cent and Bangladesh for five per cent of the global disease burden due to smokeless tobacco.
The research, published in the journal BMC Medicine, comes at a time when there are concerns that spitting – a behaviour common among those who chew tobacco – is likely to transmit the Covid-19 virus.
“The study has come at a time when Covid-19 is affecting almost all aspects of our lives. Chewing tobacco increases saliva production and leads to compulsive spitting,” said study researcher Kamran Siddiqi from the University of York in the UK.
There are concerns that spitting – a behaviour common among those who chew tobacco- is likely to transmit the virus to others.
“In acknowledgement of this, India, for example, has already taken a positive step by banning spitting in public places to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” Siddiqi added.
The study estimated that in 2017 alone smokeless tobacco resulted in more than 90,000 deaths due to cancers of the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus and accounted for more than 258,000 deaths from heart disease.
Millions more have their lives shortened by ill-health due to the effects of chewing tobacco-based products, the study reveals.
Researchers compiled the figures using data from 127 countries and extracted from the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study and surveys such as the Global Adult Tobacco Survey.
“Smokeless tobacco is used by almost a quarter of tobacco users and most of them live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” Siddiqi said.
In the UK, South Asian communities also consume smokeless tobacco products which too needs to be regulated just like cigarettes, according to the researchers.
“We have an international policy in the form of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, to regulate the supply and demand for tobacco products,” the study authors wrote.
“We need to apply this framework to smokeless tobacco with the same rigour as it is applied to cigarettes,” they noted.